VIDEO: Razor puts Crusaders' All Blacks on ice
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Crusaders coach Robertson has been forced to play a juggling act with his All Blacks ahead of their final pre-season outing.
The defending and nine-time champions take on the Highlanders in Southbridge this Friday.
Robertson named a squad of 27 for the match, including the much-anticipated return of George Bridge and Tim Bateman – who will both take the field for the first time this year.
Whetukamokamo Douglas will captain the side, supported by scrumhalves Mitchell Drummond and Bryn Hall.
However, it is the absence of a host of All Blacks that headlines the team announcement.
As part of the agreement with the All Black management, the frontline players will not feature in any pre-season matches.
The Crusaders won’t be allowed to use key All Blacks until the competition starts next week – when the Blues host the Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday, February 16.
Absent this week are captain Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Matt Todd, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue.
“It is a different challenge for us, it 100 percent is,” Robertson told a media scrum in Christchurch.
“There is no doubt that having that game for them is beneficial, but [with the] World Cup year, the season is a week earlier. It is just the way it works out.
“You can make an issue if you want, or you can find a solution – which we have and get on with it, with the right mindset.”
Robertson admitted it is a juggling act to ensure the players are match ready for the opening week.
“We are just managing the All Blacks, as much as we possibly can, so they can get through our structures and the shapes that we are running,” Robertson said.
“And integrate them as much as we can because they have got to have contact – the physicality of it.
“It is alright running through shapes, until someone is in front of you and banging into you. It is a bit different isn’t it?”
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas (captain), 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements – from: Harry Allan, Andrew Makalio, George Bower, Mitchell Dunshea, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Sanders, Bryn Hall, Ereatara Enari, Brett Cameron, Leicester Faingaanuku, Ngane Punivai, Will Jordan.
Date: Friday, February 8
Venue: Southbridge Rugby Club
Kick-off: 18.00 (05.00 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown, James Munro